A New Study Reveals Just How Much Return-To-Office Mandates Are Costing Workers: A Month's Worth Of Groceries

It's a staggering amount of money and energy for most workers, and it's making them downright resentful.

Woman frustrated over how much return to office mandates are costing workers CrizzyStudio / Shutterstock.com

So how are return-to-office mandates going so far? Not great as far as workers are concerned, according to a new study. 

The study shows how much return-to-office mandates are costing workers each month. 

Return-to-office (RTO) mandates have become increasingly popular with companies and employers, many of whom claim they've boosted productivity.

That may soon change, however, because the most recent data shows workers are pretty much unanimous: They hate them. And a new study by HR research firm BetterUP revealed at least part of why: it's costing workers a staggering amount of money each month to return to their pre-pandemic cubicle farms, and it's making them downright resentful. 


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Return-to-office mandates are costing workers an average of $561 a month — roughly a month's worth of groceries.

BetterUp's data showed that remote positions have decreased by roughly half as employers have moved to either full-time in-office schemes or hybrid models that allow workers to split their work time between home and the office. 


Among those that have abandoned a fully remote model, employers cited improved culture and connection among staff as the primary reason for making the choice. But it seems like that might end up being a major miscalculation.



BetterUp's survey, which focused on 1,400 full-time U.S. workers who were forced to return to the office, found that RTO schemes are costing workers an average of $561 every month — roughly what the average two-person household spends on groceries a month.

A New Study Reveals How Much Return-To-Office Mandates Are Costing WorkersPhoto: XiXinXing / Shutterstock.com


Commuting costs are the most obvious culprit, but the survey revealed that workers are also being forced to spend extra on additional childcare and pet care services, as well as help around the house — cleaning services, meal prep services, and the like — to make up for the lost time spent at home.

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Professionals are growing deeply resentful because of how much return-to-office mandates are costing workers.

Unsurprisingly, being asked to spend an average of $561 a month is not sitting well with workers already strapped by the effects of our recent bouts of staggering inflation, not to mention the re-engineering of everyone's lifestyles that working from home for the last few years has constituted.

BetterUp's survey found that those who were forced into a return-to-office scheme showed much higher levels of stress and burnout, none of which should be surprising. As the firm itself points out in its report, a 2023 Gallup study revealed that just having a commute alone is a happiness killer. Just a 30-minute commute, shorter than many people's, is enough to spike both stress and anger. 


A New Study Reveals How Much Return-To-Office Mandates Are Costing WorkersPhoto: barteverett / Shutterstock.com

But BetterUp found that employers who implement an RTO mandate are also setting themselves up for failure, too. Workers forced back to the office were found to be less engaged, less productive, and less trusting of their employers. 

Even more important, the survey revealed these workers have much higher tendencies to be actively considering leaving their jobs. With the recruiting process costing an average of 20% of a departing employee's salary, that sentiment adds up to a ton of potentially lost revenue.




This all seems downright silly given that study after study — with the exception of a small few in the past year often riddled with data-skewing conflicts of interest — shows that professionals who work from home actually devote more time to their jobs than those in the office, and are often more productive, too.

BetterUp recommended that employers instead take a measured and empathetic approach to RTO mandates and go the way of Smuckers' much-heralded, and employee-approved compromise rather than WebMD's now infamous hardline tack.


The bottom line: You can't rip the rug out from under a workforce and expect them to simply take it, nor should you be surprised when they balk and go elsewhere. Taking a more empathetic and sensible approach isn't just the right thing to do, it's the more business-savvy solution, too.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.